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Opinion | Being silent is being complicit

Joey Kennedy

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A moment in time: I was a young journalist, just hired by The Birmingham News. I was standing on the street outside the old Birmingham News building. I had my coat and tie on. A man came up and stood beside me, also in a coat and tie, as we waited for the light to change so we could cross the street. An Alabama State Trooper car driven by a black officer passed by. The white man next to me leaned over and said, out loud: “I’ll never get used to seeing a n—– drive a state trooper car.” I looked at the man, startled, then quickly walked across the street.

I did not say anything to him. And I have regretted that inaction ever since. He assumed because I am white, like him, that I was also a racist. I vowed that day never to be quiet again.

The person who triggered me most, though, was my father. He used the n-word often, even as much of his older life was spent being taken care of by African-American workers at the nursing homes he lived in. Anytime I or my wife came around, he’d drop the word, and I’d tell him to knock it off. He never knocked it off.

In one of our last face-to-face conversations, in the fall of 2008, my father told me I could not vote for that n—— for president. I told him he couldn’t tell me who I could vote for, and I turned and left his apartment. He did apologize the next day, not for calling Barack Obama that word, but for thinking he could tell his 52-year-old son who to vote for. I did not forgive him, nor did I see him again. He died the next year.

The Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd by pressing his knee on the unarmed man’s neck for nearly nine minutes had the cold eyes of my father.

“I can’t breathe!” Police officer Derek Chauvin and the other three police officers with him did not care.

Six police officers in Atlanta are being charged for brutalizing two Georgia college students. Many peaceful protesters have been beaten by police or shot with rubber bullets as they exercise their constitutional right. And more and more often, journalists are being attacked by police as they cover demonstrations all over the nation.

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Words have power, and Donald Trump’s words have incited brutality against journalists and others.

Certainly most police officers, and I know a few, are wonderful public servants. But there is systemic racism imbedded in many police departments, and there is little question that our black and brown citizens are more often targeted because of the color of their skin. Police are much more militarized these days, too, using weapons of war against their own people.

My heart beats a little faster when I see blue lights in my rearview mirror. I cannot imagine the terror that grips my black and brown friends when it happens to them.

I love teaching at UAB because of its diversity. One important aspect I’ve noted, at demonstrations here in Birmingham and elsewhere, is how diverse the crowds are. It’s not a black thing. It’s a human thing.

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But this is a black thing: I ask my African-American students each semester whether they have been stopped for driving while black. Easily 90 percent say they have. And they also have had “the talk” with their parents. You know, how to act if you’re stopped by a police officer. “Show your hands. Be respectful. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.”

This exists in America, and it is profoundly sad.

While 77 percent of white Americans say they trust the police, according to a poll from Axios-Ipsos, only 36 percent of black Americans do.

There is a reason for that: Black people are being killed and terrorized by mostly white cops across the land. Even here, in a big mall, on a Thanksgiving night.

“I can’t breathe.”

The “leader” of our nation normalizes racism for many by his own example.

For the rest of us, though, we must reject racism wherever we find it in all of its forms. We must speak up, and march, and never let a person standing next to you on the street get away with it.

We cannot remain silent, or that knee will never be off our necks.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion | Alabama may lose a congressional seat, but maybe not

“U.S. Census Bureau estimates indicate that we might dodge that bullet.”

Steve Flowers

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(STOCK PHOTO)

It has been speculated for several years that Alabama could lose a congressional seat after the 2020 Census. It was thought to be a foregone conclusion. However, in recent days, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates indicate that we might dodge that bullet. They say we are on the cusp and, if we have had a good count, we could keep our current seven seats in congress. 

This will be extremely beneficial for Alabama if this miracle occurs. We have a very heavy laden Republican congressional delegation. We have six Republicans and one lone Democrat. We have two freshmen Republican congressmen — Rep. Jerry Carl in the 1st District and Rep. Barry Moore in the 2nd District. Both of these men will be reliably Republican votes.

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, is our most powerful and senior member of congress. He is entering his 25th year in the House of Representatives and is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, is beginning his 17th year in the House and has just become the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee. If the Republicans win the majority in the House in the 2022 elections, then Aderholt and Rogers will become the chairmen of these two prestigious and important committees.

Our lone Democratic delegate, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, could be our most important member as we enter 2021. She is in the House leadership and is widely admired and respected within the Democratic Caucus. The Democrats hold majorities in both chambers of Congress as well as the White House, which puts her in the catbird seat.

If we do lose a seat, it will be a difficult task to reshape the state’s districts. If that occurs, this is how I see it shaking out:

Let us begin with our Democratic district held by Sewell. Our state population is nearly 30 percent African American. Therefore, the U.S. Justice Department will not allow you to terminate the 7th Congressional District, the only district where a majority of voters are Black. In fact, they would like to see two, but it cannot be accomplished.

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Sewell’s 7th District will become the 6th District and will encompass a large portion of the state. It will begin with Birmingham and get the majority-Black metro areas of Jefferson, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery counties and will also have to pick up the rural counties north of Mobile, which have traditionally been in the 1st Congressional District.

She will represent nearly the entire Black Belt and will pick up the counties of Clarke, Washington, Wilcox, Monroe, Escambia and Butler.

The Black Belt is losing population. The population of the state of Alabama is moving north toward Huntsville. The current 6th Congressional District, held by Republican Rep. Gary Palmer, will become the new 5th District. It will basically remain unaltered, as the strongholds of Jefferson and Shelby Counties have kept pace with the national population growth.

The 5th Congressional District, which includes Huntsville and is currently held by Republican Congressman Mo Brooks, is where the growth is in the state. It will shrink geographically to essentially be a Huntsville, Madison County, Limestone County, Morgan County and GOP district.

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Aderholt will retain his Northwest and North Central Alabama core constituency including Walker, Cullman and Marshall Counties and all the Sand Mountain area. He may go into Huntsville. He may also like to retain his 4th District number.

Rogers’s 3rd Congressional District will become the new 2nd District. It will keep his home area of Anniston and Calhoun County, as well as the growth areas of Auburn, Opelika and surrounding Lee County.

This is where you start dissecting the current 2nd Congressional District. The populous counties of Elmore and Autauga, along with the suburbs of East Montgomery/Pike Road, must go northward to Rogers’s new 2nd Congressional District. The 1st Congressional District of Mobile and Baldwin remains the 1st Congressional District. Baldwin has grown extensively, and these two counties make up a congressional district. Therefore, newly elected Congressman Jerry Carl is likely to be safe.

I guess you folks in the Wiregrass, and especially Barry Moore, are wondering where you go. The counties of Houston, Dale, Coffee and Covington either go into the new 2nd District by drawing an arrow through Henry, Barbour, Macon, and Russell and making a super East Alabama district. Or, depending on the Census count, you draw an arrow through Escambia and pull Dothan and the Wiregrass into the Mobile and Baldwin 1st Congressional District.

Wherever the Wiregrass goes, it will make that district even more Republican. It is the most conservative Republican area of the state. It will be interesting to see. This, of course, is just my prognostication. The state Legislature will draw the lines next year after all the Census figures are counted and revealed.

See you next week.

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Opinion | Oh, Mo, you just can’t help it, can you?

“Brooks continually embarrasses Alabama. It’s his superpower.”

Joey Kennedy

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Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, in a campaign video.

There are actually people who were at the Trump Coup Rally Wednesday who believe that those who stormed the Capitol in Washington D.C. were actually members of  “antifa” disguised as supporters of President Donald Trump.

You wonder sometimes what people are really thinking. And, of course, Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, fell all in for that.

Brooks continually embarrasses Alabama. It’s his superpower. But he embarrassed Alabama overtime this week by speaking at Trump’s Coup Rally, helping get the crowd riled up by telling them it was time to “kick ass.”

Later that day, as Congress was certifying Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next president and vice president, Brooks was among the Alabama Republicans who officially objected to one of the states’ slates of electors, acting the fool and wasting time.

Then, on Twitter Thursday morning, in three parts, Brooks shared his own version about the mob riot by Trump supporters outside and inside the Capitol building. Here’s Brooks’ full tweet thread:

“1. A Congressman warned me on MONDAY of a growing ANTIFA threat & advised that I sleep in my office rather than leaving the Capitol complex & sleeping in my condo. I heeded that advice & have slept on office floor for 4 straight nights.

“2. Congressman told me he was warned on TUESDAY by Capitol Police officer that intelligence suggest fascist ANTIFA was going to try to infiltrate the Trump rally by dressing like Trump supporters. 3. Capitol Police advised TUESDAY that it best not to leave Capitol complex.

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“4. Evidence, much public, surfacing that many Capitol assaulters were fascist ANTIFAs, not Trump supporters. Again, time will reveal truth. Don’t rush to judgment. Don’t be fooled by  #FakeNewsMedia whose political judgment drives their reporting. My view: Fully prosecute all.”

There is so much wrong with this three-part Tweet thread, it’s hard to know where to begin. That’s pretty typical when trying to figure out Brooks, though. Remember, he embarrassed himself and Alabama by claiming that climate change had nothing to do with rising sea levels. Instead, sea levels were rising because big rocks were falling into the ocean.

Yeah, him.

Anyway, maybe Brooks just doesn’t know what antifa stands for: anti-fascist. I’m antifa. It’s not an organization like, say, the Proud Boys, a racist, neofascist group Brooks probably identifies with and one that was involved in the Capitol riot Wednesday.

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Antifa is a political philosophy. It’s part of my political philosophy. I oppose fascism. You know, people like Mussolini, Hitler and Trump. Antifa folks are usually liberal (I am), and are far more interested in social justice and fighting fascism. We care about facts, truth and science. It’s not an insult to be called antifa.

So it is difficult for an anti-fascist to also be a fascist, as Brooks describes.

Too, we know the 35-year-old woman who was shot and killed by Capitol Police was, indeed, a passionate Trump supporter.

Finally, a couple of hours after Brooks’ misleading Tweet, Forbes magazine reported this: “No verifiable evidence has been presented that antifa supporters were a part of the mob that infiltrated the Capitol building.”

We can report that at least one Alabama man was arrested, though. The New York Times reported that a 70-year-old man from Alabama was arrested near the Capitol yesterday with a firearm and Molotov cocktail materials. Capitol Police identified him as Lonnie Coffman of Falkville.

“He wasn’t radicalized by Antifa,” wrote an acquaintance on Twitter. “He was radicalized by irresponsible, racist, fear-mongering politicians like Mo Brooks. And even that didn’t make Mo Brooks stop.”

Another Alabama man died during the chaos, and he clearly wasn’t a member of “ANTIFA” and another is apparently listed as a person of interest by the Washington police.

Brooks has been peddling the same lies as his idol Trump peddles: The election was rigged, and Trump was robbed.

Of course, that is absolutely not true, as thinking Americans know. Brooks and Trump are just sore losers and bad liars.

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Opinion | Reapportionment will be paramount with Legislature

“Drawing their own lines will be legislators’ primary interest.”

Steve Flowers

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A draft Alabama redistricting map from 2017.

As we close the book on 2020, we will close the door on national politics and get back to the basics — good old Alabama politics. That’s my game. It is what I know and like to write and talk about. Some say my prognostications and observations on Alabama politics are sometimes accurate. However, not so much so on the national level.

About a decade ago there was an open presidential race and a spirited Republican battle for the nomination had begun. One of the entrants stood out to me. U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson from Tennessee looked like the real thing to me. He was tall, tough, articulate, a movie star and major player in the Watergate hearings. He looked like a president. He had a deep authoritative voice and gravitas, and he had done a good job as a U.S. senator from Tennessee. He actually had been born in Alabama.

So I wrote a glowing column about how he looked like presidential timber. I went out on a limb and boldly predicted that he was going to win the Republican nomination and would go on to win the presidency. My profuseness was so pronounced that soon after the column was printed, it was picked up by his campaign and his wife called me from Nashville and thanked me for my comments. A week later Thompson dropped out of the race. So much for my presidential prognostications.

The governor and Alabama Legislature have a myriad of issues to tackle as the new year begins. A good many issues have to be addressed in the upcoming regular session, which begins in less than a month. The most prevailing problem is the fact that the U.S. Justice Department has sued the state for our overcrowded prisons. They convene in Montgomery the first week of February.

Many of the leaders of the Legislature were hoping and somewhat expecting the governor to call a special session or two prior to the regular session. There are a lot of issues that have to be addressed and are delinquent due to COVID cutting the 2020 regular session in half and there is concern that COVID could kill part of this year’s session. It will indeed make a precarious environment inside the Statehouse. There are economic development bills that need passing and a ton of local bills legislators need to pass for their districts and then there are big-ticket items like the prison problems.

Regardless of how important all of the substantive state issues are, nothing will be as paramount to legislators as reapportionment or the redistricting of their own districts. Self-preservation will prevail. The United States Census is taken every 10 years for a reason. The U.S. Constitution, and concurrently all state constitutions, mandate the count for one reason: to make all congressional and legislative districts have roughly the same number of people. Thus the saying, “one person, one vote.”  The power of the pencil is granted to the state Legislature to draw their own lines and the power rests with them to draw the congressional lines for the state. If indeed we do lose a congressional seat, then that task becomes exponentially more difficult than if we had our current seven districts.

Drawing their own lines will be legislators’ primary interest. All 105 House members and all 35 State Senate districts will be drafted and designed by the Legislature. Being on the Reapportionment Committee is a plum position at this time. Like most pieces of a legislative puzzle, the resolution to a large degree is accomplished by and within a committee. Every district will be reconfigured to some degree because people do move around and some locales change more than others. Therefore, there becomes a ripple effect all over the state. The Republicans have control of the majority and will use the legislative pencil to retain their supermajority. However, protecting their own incumbency will supersede party loyalty. Although, both can probably be achieved.

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This 2021 reapportionment is much more pressing than 10 years ago in 2011. They had the luxury of casually passing congressional lines for the 2012 elections. However, legislators did not run until 2014. So the Legislature passed a congressional map in 2011, and a legislative map in 2012 at a leisurely pace.

They are under the gun to get both done this year because the Legislature and Congress run in 2022. Indeed, they will have to get both done by June of this year because fundraising for the June 2022 primaries begins this June.

Look for there to be two special sessions between now and June — one for congressional redistricting and one for legislative reapportionment.

Let the games begin. See you next week.

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Opinion | Tomorrow is another year

“Tomorrow is another day. Hell, it’s another year. It’ll start like 2020 ended, but there is hope.”

Joey Kennedy

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The last day of an old year. It’s a time when many of us reflect. We review where we are compared to where we were when the year started. Well, this has been, for me, and for many others, the worst year of our lives. The year 2020 was not kind.

We’ve lived with the COVID-19 pandemic for most of the year. During the first weeks of the plague, I interviewed a friend’s fiancé who was at University Hospital with the coronavirus. She was afraid. She couldn’t breathe. She got better. My friend and she were married. Good ending.

The year is ending not so good, with the recent death of another friend from COVID. She hosted a Thanksgiving with relatives who came in from other states. She got the disease, ended up on a ventilator, and now she’s dead. Her children, this New Year’s Eve, are planning her funeral.

COVID-19 is real, and it’s deadly, and you’re an idiot if you believe anything else.

We’ve been subjected to the worst year of four terrible years of the Donald Trump regime. His racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and narcissism were always bad – evil, even – but never more than this year when he completely ignored the disease that is ravaging the country, crippling the economy, killing hundreds of thousands, and Trump couldn’t accept that he lost a fair election. By a lot.

Trump’s cult members believe all sorts of conspiracies, yet scores of court cases have been thrown out because there is no evidence that any significant voter fraud occurred, including at least two cases before the Supreme Court where Trump appointed three members. One case of voter fraud that was revealed was a Trump voter who voted for Trump twice, under his own name and under the name of his deceased mother.

We have witnessed and participated in protests for Black Lives Matter because young, innocent black men and women are still being brutally murdered by police. The systemic racism that infects our law enforcement and government agencies are now facing a reckoning.

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And there’s still more downside. At the end of a terrible year, especially one as bad as 2020, we have to look far ahead to find hope.

When we start the year 2021 tomorrow, we’ll still have this sorry economy and terrible pandemic. Trump will still be in office for another 20 days, and all he’s showing is that he’ll burn the house down as he exits the scene.

Systemic racism will still be present. We have work to do in 2021, and for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, it’ll be heavy lifting to throw off the Trump mistakes and hate. I do believe racism will recede from the public eye, anyway. Truly. The racists will have to crawl back under their rocks, because they won’t have a president who sanctions their hate, and most of our society won’t tolerate it.

But racism still will exist, even if not as visible, and that is one of the challenges for the Biden administration: Make racism wrong again. There are not fine people on both sides. There are racists, and there are those people who fight against racism. The racists are wrong. The fine people are those fighting racism. It is not a difficult math problem. We’re not talking calculus here, which is a good thing, because as far as calculus goes, all I can do is spell it.

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The end of a year is also a time to take stock. Personally. I’ll be turning 65 early in the year. It’s a big birthday. For the first time in four years, I’ll have health insurance. I already have my Medicare card in my wallet. I’m in geezerland. That’s OK with me. No awards necessary. It only means I didn’t die.

But there are other measures to consider as well. Has it been a life well lived? My wife, Veronica, has a favorite saying: The best revenge is to live well. To those who brutally attack me and Veronica because of my writing, who vandalize our cars or our house, who send anonymous hate letters to our home, I’m living well.

My students at UAB or other people I meet in the community congratulate me on the Pulitzer Prize two colleagues and I won for editorial writing in 1991. They say something like, that must be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. I tell them, not pretending to be humble, that it’s not even in the top 10. Oh, don’t get me wrong: It’s a great honor, the biggest a journalist can earn. But is it one of the most important things that’s ever happened to me?

No.

Our first pug Greta, who introduced us to the breed and led us to rescue a dozen other pugs, was a bigger deal. We lost our 13-year-old Peerey last week, after he was mauled by one of our other dogs, Betsey. So we lost Betsey, too, to a humane euthanasia after consulting with our veterinarian. Peerey was a bigger deal than a Pulitzer Prize. When I turned 60, Veronica gave me a sky dive. That was a bigger deal. I’m a teacher now, for 20 years, at UAB, and that’s a bigger deal. I have really close friends, some from my work, some from my outside life, some who are former students. That’s a bigger deal. Having known Lauren, my 14-year-old niece who died of brain cancer in September last year, is a much bigger deal.

I walked my “daughter” Nicole down the aisle at her wedding to her wife Sara Kate two years ago, and that’s a bigger deal.

On Feb. 2, I’ll be married to Veronica for 41 years. What Veronica has given me over those years – the love, the care, the correction, the help to let me be who I am – is a much bigger deal than any Pulitzer Prize.

This god-awful year is nearly done. We’ll mostly look back with angst, with anger, with regret, with profound sadness. But tomorrow, as Scarlett O’Hara said, is another day. Hell, it’s another year. Yeah, it’ll start like 2020 ended, but there is hope on the horizon.

Let’s keep our eyes sharply focused on the horizon. Let us remain careful, mask up, wash our hands, stay socially distanced, care for others. And let us understand that in this life, our best revenge is to live well.

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